Book Review: The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Title: The Hollow Places
Author: T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press
Publication date: October 6, 2020
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A young woman discovers a strange portal in her uncle’s house, leading to madness and terror in this gripping new novel from the author of the “innovative, unexpected, and absolutely chilling” (Mira Grant, Nebula Award–winning author) The Twisted Ones.

Pray they are hungry.

Kara finds these words in the mysterious bunker that she’s discovered behind a hole in the wall of her uncle’s house. Freshly divorced and living back at home, Kara now becomes obsessed with these cryptic words and starts exploring the peculiar bunker—only to discover that it holds portals to countless alternate realities. But these places are haunted by creatures that seem to hear thoughts…and the more you fear them, the stronger they become.

With her distinctive “delightfully fresh and subversive” (SF Bluestocking) prose and the strange, sinister wonder found in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s LabyrinthThe Hollow Places is another compelling and white-knuckled horror novel that you won’t be able to put down.

One word review: Creepy.

Five word review: Scary. Snarky. Weird. Nightmarish. Un-put-downable.

But let me expand a little…

In The Hollow Places, Kara (known as Carrot by her uncle and close friends) is recently divorced and without a place to live. Her uncle Earl runs a totally awesome-sounding small-town museum (Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy). It’s a mish-mosh place full of (yes) taxidermied animals, fossils, relics, weirdness, and whatever people choose to send him. Earl is a sweetheart of a man, a total believer in whatever strangeness he comes across, but also kind-hearted and accepting and unconditionally loving when it comes to Kara.

Earl invites Kara to come live in the spare room at the back of the museum and help him with cataloguing and inventory. With so many positive memories of her time with Earl during her childhood, Kara is happy to accept. The taxidermy in the museum feels like being surrounded by old friends (and does not creep her out in the slightest, like it would for me!).

When Earl has to leave for a few weeks to get knee surgery, that’s when the weirdness starts. One day, Kara discovers a hole in a section of the drywall, which she attributes to clumsy tourists. Enlisting the help of Simon, the friendly and slightly odd barista next door, she plans to repair the hole… until they look inside it and see not the expected boards and plaster, but a corridor.

And it’s a corridor that should be impossible. Kara knows the layout of the building perfectly, and there just isn’t room for a long hallway like this. Naturally, they decide to explore, and end up in a bunker that opens onto an island in a river… in another world.

The world they discover is immediately disconcerting. There are willow trees everywhere, and the river is filled with small humped islands that appear to all contain bunkers. The sand has weird funnel-shaped holes, and there’s something just completely otherworldly and alien about this place.

The more they explore, the more horrors they discover, and they soon realize that they may not be able to get back to their own world.

I won’t go into too much more detail about the terror of this willow world, or what happens next, but it’s SCARY AF and gave me nightmares, for real. And despite the nightmares, I loved this book.

T. Kingfisher’s writing is funny and snarky, even when the circumstances are creepy and horrible. I love how Kara looks at the world, and some of the descriptions are laugh-out-loud hilarious, even in the midst of the terror.

Kara is a freelance graphic designer, and her worldview is amazing. Even while dealing with her disillusionment over her failed marriage and her jerk of an ex, she’s funny:

Dammit, I can’t believe I spent so much of my life on a man who would unironically post the line “Today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.” And in Papyrus, too.

Simon is really fun too, and I love how he throws himself into the adventure with Kara, even while reminding them both how bad an idea this could be.

Come on, let’s go back to the coffee shop and I’ll make us Irish coffees and we’ll discuss this like people who don’t die in the first five minutes of a horror movie.

Even as hideous danger looms, Kara is still Kara:

It sounded slow. If I got to my feet and grabbed my cane, I could hobble away, and then we could have the slowest chase scene ever.

I read a good portion of this book in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, and that pretty much guaranteed that I’d never be able to sleep again! Well, at least not that night.

The writing and the pacing are terrific, and the plot is weird and terrifying. The willow world is baffling and yet horrible, and there are certain descriptions that made me feel that I would drop dead of complete and utter fright if I found myself in Kara’s place.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that besides the awesomeness of Kara, Simon, and Uncle Earl, and of course the museum itself, there’s also a Very Good Cat named Beau who is all sorts of amazing in the most cat-like ways possible. I’m guessing the author is an animal lover, because her previous book, The Twisted Ones, had a Very Good Dog as an important character. (Rest assured, Beau is just fine by the end of this book. Beau is a bad-ass.)

The Hollow Places is a crazy disturbing read, but I mean that in the best possible way. A perfect read for the creepy-reading month of October!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 books on my TBR list for fall 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Fall 2020 TBR.

So many books to look forward to! Most are upcoming new releases, but I’m including a couple of books from my shelves too.

(Click on any of the book cover images to see larger versions.)

  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
  • Dying With Her Cheer Pants On by Seanan McGuire. A collection of three new stories… and of course I’ll read anything she writes.
  • Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Serpentine by Philip Pullman: A new novella set in the world of His Dark Materials.
  • The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman: It’s been almost a year since I bought a copy of this book! It’s about time to read it.
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  • The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie
  • A Stitch in Time by Kelley Armstrong
  • The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
  • Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett — my next Discworld book

What books are you most excited to read this fall? Please share your TTT link!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2020.

I’m so excited for all of these! Since I just did a summer TBR post a couple of weeks ago that included a bunch of new releases for June through August, today I’m focusing on books coming out in fall to early winter. And the scary thing is, most of these are being released in September. How will I possibly have the time to read them all?

  1. A Killing Frost (October Daye, #14) by Seanan McGuire (release date 9/1/2020)
  2. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (release date 9/8/2020)
  3. The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry (release date 9/8/2020)
  4. The Trials of Koli (The Book of Koli, #2) by M. R. Carey (release date 9/15/2020)
  5. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (release date 9/15/2020)
  6. Well Played (Well Met, #2) by Jen DeLuca (release date 9/22/2020)
  7. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (release date 9/29/2020)
  8. The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher (release date 10/6/2020)
  9. Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker (release date 10/6/2020)
  10. The Once & Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (release date 10/13/2020)

Are you planning to read any of these? What new releases are you especially excited about for the 2nd half of 2019? Please share your links!

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Book Review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

Title: The Twisted Ones
Author: T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication date: October 1, 2019
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods.

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

The set-up of The Twisted Ones hooked me from the start. Freelance editor Mouse heads off to her dead grandmother’s isolated home to prepare it for sale, but upon arrival, discovers it’s stuffed to the rafters with newspapers, coat hangers, clothing, and all sorts of useless junk. If it were me, I probably would have made a run for it at soon as I pushed open the front door and saw the mess waiting inside, but Mouse decides to stick it out. After all, she can work anywhere, and her father has offered to split the sale proceeds with her when it’s all done.

Accompanied by her beloved but not entirely bright coonhound Bongo, Mouse gets to work. When she discovers an old journal kept by her long deceased stepgrandfather, things get weird. Mouse was well aware that her grandmother was a hateful, mean woman who was universally despised, but through the diary, she learns even more about her cruelty. What’s more, she also sees hints of madness or dementia through her grandfather’s writings, particularly through his repetition of lines that seem to have become a sort of mantra for him:

I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones…

When Mouse and Bongo accidentally find an impossible hilltop through the woods in the backyard — when there aren’t actually any such hills in the area — things get weirder. Strangely carved stones and menacing trees are clear indications that things are not normal. As Mouse encounters more and more oddities, the woods near her grandmother’s house and the things they contain become even more menacing.

This was a terrifically creepy read. One ray of sunshine to note up front: As my friend who recommended this book pointed out, Mouse opens the first chapter with Bongo by her side as she looks back on the events she’s about to describe. So, for those who might enter in fear of something awful happening to a very good dog, rest assured, Bongo will be fine! Somehow, this seems important to know from the get-go.

I really enjoyed Mouse’s narrative voice. She’s plainspoken, but not without a sense of humor. As she recounts the events that occurred, she recognizes that most people would assume she’s lost touch with reality, but she feel compelled to tell the story anyway.

I am going to try to start at the beginning, even though I know you won’t believe me.

It’s okay. I wouldn’t believe me either. Everything I have to say sounds completely barking mad. I’ve run it through my mind over and over, trying to find a way to turn it around so that it all sounds quite normal and sensible, and of course there isn’t one.

As the story progresses, I found myself telling Mouse to get in her truck and drive away as quickly as possible, which really would have been the smart thing to do. When she finally decides to do just that, there’s a very good reason why she doesn’t, and the big showdown at the end practically begs to be made into a horror movie (that is sure to keep viewers from ever getting a good night’s sleep again, especially if they’re attempting to sleep in a cabin in the woods).

Something about the answers to the book’s mysteries didn’t quite feel as monumental to me as I expected, which is why I only went with 3.5 stars. Still, it’s a terrific, engrossing read that provides plenty of creepy, scary atmosphere and plenty of reason to be afraid of the woods, the dark, the woods in the dark, and anything that comes tapping at your door.